March 1 COVID-19 update: City vaccinates 50,000, Fullerton ahead of curve, power use down

OTTAWA – Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is reporting one new COVID-19-related death and another 65 residents have tested positive for the virus today (March 1), as the city hits a milestone having administered more than 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

No new vaccine doses have arrived in the capital since last week, according to OPH. The city got 9,360 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on Feb. 22, and another 4,000 Moderna vaccines on Feb. 25. There’s been no word on how many are expected to arrive this week.

As of Monday, March 1, there have been 50,508 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in Ottawa since December of 2020. The city has received 61,820 doses of vaccine, to date.

The new COVID-19 death brings Ottawa’s pandemic toll to 440.

OPH says the number of active cases in the city is up to 510 today, however hospitalizations remain stable at 21, with seven patients in intensive care. Acute care beds at Ottawa hospitals are at 96 per cent capacity, intensive care beds are 70 per cent full, while intensive care ventilator beds are at 23 per cent capacity.

The rate of residents being tested for COVID-19 who are seeing positive results is down to 1.7 per cent.

Local outbreaks are up from last week, according to OPH’s dashboard. There are 27 healthcare institutions on outbreak status, as well as three schools and two childcare centres. OPH is also tracking community outbreaks linked to a multi-unit dwelling, a community organization and three workplaces.  

There have been 14,770 cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa since March 2020, of which 13,820 have been resolved.

Ontario is reporting 1,023 new cases of COVID-19 today, including nine in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s region, seven in Renfrew County and two in the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark district.

MPP Fullerton ahead of curve on LTC coronavirus spread

ONTARIO – Ontario Long-Term Care Minister, Kanata-Carleton MPP Dr. Merrilee Fullerton pushed for stronger COVID-19 measures the transcript from the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission shows.

Ontario’s long-term care minister was aware of the dangers the novel coronavirus posed to the sector long before it was declared a global pandemic, a newly released transcript from the province’s commission on the matter reveals. 

The transcript of the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission’s interview with Merrilee Fullerton and her deputy shows the pair advocated for stronger measures than the government was willing to put in place, earlier than they were willing to act. 

Fullerton was a long-time Kanata family doctor before entering in to politics.

“You were ahead of the chief medical officer of health in many respects, from your notes anyway,” commission lawyer John Callaghan said while questioning Fullerton. 

Fullerton’s notes from the time suggest she was concerned about asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes as early as Feb. 5, 2020. That possibility wasn’t publicly acknowledged by the government until much later. 

“I recognize at times people can overstep. I needed to listen to the experts and the science and I was trying to wear my, not my doctor or public health hat, because that’s not the role I had,” she told the commission. 

Fullerton noted her personal history gave her insights in to the situation other politicians may lack. 

“I had suspicions early on, well because I’m a family doctor and spent many years dealing with the elderly,” Fullerton said. “They may not present with typical symptoms, and so you always have to be watching.” 

In other cases, such as the directive for staffers to only work at one long-term care home rather than toggling between facilities, potentially spreading the virus, it was legal issues and questions about whether there would be enough staff to keep the homes running that delayed government action. 

COVID-19 has devastated Ontario’s long-term care system, responsible for the deaths of 3,744 residents and 11 staff members so far. 

Fullerton also refused to suggest the risk of COVID-19 was low in a video filmed in early March, the transcript shows. 

“I was very concerned about doing a video that would show or tell people the risk was low, even though that was what health experts and the health leaders in Canada were saying,” she said. 

Her notes from the pandemic’s first wave, read out during the interview, also show she advocated for locking down long-term care homes before the province did so, and was concerned about staff not wearing personal protection equipment at all times the week before the province made it mandatory. 

Fullerton told the commission she was also advocating for essential caregivers to be allowed back into long-term care homes as early as May. 

Such caregivers, usually family members, weren’t allowed back in to the facilities until July, and even then, the ministry of long-term care has said, the rules were being applied inconsistently until adjustments were made in September. 

But she said others, particularly Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health said the risk of essential caregivers bringing COVID-19 into the facilities was too great. 

“I was very eager to get caregivers back in to the homes, because I believe it was well-being and emotional well-being,” Fullerton said. “However, others understood differently and had their reasons for understanding the risks they did, and so it was left.”  

The Ministry of Long-Term Care was created out of the Ministry of Health (formerly known as the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care) in mid-2019, and the commission heard it spent much of that year getting set up. 

The Ministry of Long-Term Care was spun off from the Ministry of Health in an effort to “put a lens on the long-standing neglect” of the sector Fullerton said. 

But when the pandemic struck, the Ministry of Long-Term Care was still largely dependent on the Ministry of Health, she said, and when it came time to communicate with long-term care homes about the pandemic, the newly formed ministry was being left out. 

“Just wondering why Ministry of Health is issuing, reissuing the guidelines without MLTC,” Fullerton wrote in an email early in the pandemic, which was read out during the interview. “I understand MOH is the lead, but MLTC must be part of this communication to our own sector.” 

Her chief of staff echoed the sentiment in a separate email dated March 31. 

“PPE has been deployed to hospitals and correctional facilities. This was done with LTC partners on the line,” he wrote. “We are too often the forgotten partner.”

The commission is set to present a report on April 30 that will include recommendations aimed at preventing similar outcomes in the future, in addition to two interim reports that have already been released. 

 Astrazeneca vaccine a-ok

ONTARIO – An infectious disease physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force is praising the Astrazeneca vaccine, following Health Canada’s approval.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch says, by introducing millions of additional doses of vaccine, the provincial rollout will be boosted, and the overall timeline will be tightened.

Due to Astrazeneca’s refrigeration requirements, the shots will be easier to transport and distribute than previously approved options.

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine requires a -70 C freezer, while the Moderna vaccine requires a -20 C freezer. The Astrazeneca shots require only regular refrigeration.

Dr. Bogoch says there is no bad option for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“At the end of the day, this boils down to, these are all fantastic vaccines,” he explains. “Whichever one becomes available first to you, is the right one to get.”

The doctor says he feels it’s very hard to find a downside to introducing the vaccine into the rollout.

Ontario electricity demand down

ONTARIO – Demand for electricity in Ontario last year fell to levels not seen in decades amid shifts in usage patterns caused by pandemic measures, new data show.

The decline came despite a hot summer that had people rushing to crank up the air conditioning at home, the province’s power management agency said.

“We do have this very interesting shift in who’s using the energy,” senior director of power system planning with the Independent Electricity System Operator Chuck Farmer said. “Residential users are using more electricity than we thought they would and the commercial consumers are using less.”

The onset of the pandemic last March prompted stay-at-home orders, businesses to close, and a shuttering of live sports, entertainment and dining out. Social distancing and ongoing restrictions, even as the first wave ebbed and some measures eased, nevertheless persisted and kept many people home as summer took hold and morphed into winter.

System operator data show peak electricity demand rose during a hot summer spell to 24,446 megawatts — the highest since 2013. Overall, however, Ontario electricity demand last year was the second lowest since 1988, the operator said.

In all, Ontario used 32.2 terawatts of power in 2020, a decline of 2.9 per cent from 2019.

With more people at home during the lockdown, winter residential peak demand has climbed 13 per cent above pre-pandemic levels, while summer peak usage was up 19 per cent.

Matching supply and demand — a key task of the system operator — is critical to meeting peak usage and ensuring a stable grid because electricity cannot be stored easily. It is also difficult to quickly raise or lower the output from nuclear-powered generators, which account for the bulk of electricity in the province, as demand fluctuates.

Life patterns have long impacted overall usage. For example, demand used to typically climb around 10 p.m. each night as people tuned into national television newscasts. Livestreaming has flattened that bump, while more energy-efficient lighting led to a drop in provincial demand over the holiday season.

The pandemic has now prompted further intra-day shifts in usage. Fewer people are getting up in the morning and powering up at home before powering down and rushing off to work or school. The summer saw more use of air conditioners earlier than normal after-work patterns.   

Weather has always been a key driver of demand for power, accounting for example for the record 27,005 megawatts of usage set on a brutally hot Aug. 1, 2006. Similarly, a mild winter and summer led to an overall power usage drop in 2017.

“Work patterns used to be much more predictable,” the agency said. “The pandemic has now added another element of variability for electricity demand forecasting.”